Tuesday, May 26, 1998

The Handwriting on the Wall: Foreword and Preface

by the Rev. Canon Bill Atwood
General Secretary
The Ekklesia Society

One of the special gifts of being an Episcopalian is the sense of being part of a worldwide fellowship of Christians. The Anglican Communion is made up of 37 independent “Provinces” which have arisen out of the Church of England and its mission societies in the continents of North and South America, Asia, and Africa. As these daughter churches matured, the Church of England invited them into a fraternal union. The doctrinal framework of the Communion includes the Canon of Holy Scripture, the Book of Common Prayer, the Thirty-Nine Articles, and particularly the Lambeth Quadrilateral.

The Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops is a collegial, but not legislative, gathering of the leaders of the various provinces of the Anglican Communion. At the same time, the Conference has adopted resolutions that provide doctrinal guidance for Anglicans everywhere. The Quadrilateral itself, which began as a proposal of the American Episcopal Church and articulated overarching principles of church unity, was adopted at the first Lambeth Conference in 1888. Each time they meet, the bishops at the Conference tend to articulate the direction of the communion for the next decade. This is what happened in 1988 when they launched the “Decade of Evangelism.”

Although the first Lambeth Conferences were dominated by Western bishops, bishops from the “Two-Thirds World,” or “the South” have begun exercising a role of increasing influence. Recently, the Archbishop of Nigeria, the Most Rev. Joseph Adetiloye recently spoke of this. He said:

In 1978 I waited at the microphone, and I was the first black African bishop to address the Conference. I told the assembled bishops that I was the first to speak, and it had taken until 1978 to be recognized, but in 1988, the assembly would listen to what the bishops of black Africa were saying. Further, by 1998, what African bishops had to say would chart the course of the communion.

His words have proved to be prophetic, as the majority of Anglicans are found in that part of the Communion. These young provinces bring a unique perspective to the Communion that tends to be vital in matters of faith, and is often economically “liberal” and theologically “conservative.”

Leaders from the Provinces of the South met independently in Capetown, South Africa, in 1994 to discuss issues which were particular to their region. The Second Anglican Encounter in the South, which met in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in February 1997, raised serious questions about unbiblical and unilateral actions of the Western churches, especially the Episcopal Church USA in the area of sexuality. Two of the statements from this meeting are printed in this booklet, one addressing human sexuality and the other “reconstruction” of accountability within the Communion.

The Ekklesia Society has served to connect Western Anglicans with those in the Southern provinces. In September 1997, Ekklesia, along with the Oxford Center for Mission Studies, sponsored an “Anglican Life and Witness” conference in Dallas, Texas. About fifty bishops from around the world, including four archbishops, came to address theological and moral questions and to speak and preach in Episcopal churches.

The major concerns that emerged from the Dallas conference had to do with obedience to Scripture, sexual morality, international debt, and mutual accountability of Anglicans within the Communion. The collection gathered here addresses three of these four issues.

The issue of international debt is a serious one, and Episcopalians need to bring their desire for justice and their economic resources to bear for the sake of the many people, especially our brothers and sisters in the poorer nations, who suffer from a cycle of debt and poverty which rises principally from loans made to corrupt governments to buy favors for Western interests. The people now burdened by this debt usually had no say in incurring it, nor was it used for their benefit, and they lack the resources to repay it. It is critically important that we begin to address this inequity.

The greatest affliction of our branch of Christ’s Body is in the area of sexuality. When Dr. Stephen Noll of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry presented the paper “The Handwriting on the Wall,” his insight ignited an animated and penetrating discussion of the grave concerns the bishops had already expressed in the two Kuala Lumpur Statements. As a result, they compiled the “Dallas Statement” to address issues they consider to be of key importance.

Since the Dallas meeting, Dr. Noll has written a follow-up essay, titled “No Compromise on Essentials,” which is included in this booklet. In this essay he explains why an international dialogue or compromise statement on sexuality, which may seem to some people a way out of the present crisis, would hinder rather than help the Communion in reflecting the mind of Christ.

The bishops present in Dallas committed themselves to get their issues on the agenda of Lambeth Conference. I hope this booklet will help Episcopalians to understand several very serious issues facing the Communion. Pray for these bishops and contact your own bishop about where he stands on these issues. American bishops need to understand how extreme their actions seem to leaders across the Communion. The “Dallas Statement” makes it clear how serious these issues are.

I urge you to pray for Lambeth 1998, meeting July 18 – August 9, that it will be a time of repentance and renewal for the Anglican way as we approach the third millennium after our Savior’s birth.

Many thanks to Latimer Press and the Rev. Todd Wetzel for the publication and distribution of this booklet, and thanks to Steve Noll for the part he has played in helping to turn the tide.

Author’s Preface
This book is a collection of essays and statements that have emerged in the past year as the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion have wrestled with the “sexuality issue,” specifically condoning of the ordination of practicing homosexuals and the blessing of “same-sex unions” in the Episcopal Church USA.

My involvement in the current turmoil in the Episcopal Church dates back two years to the 1996 trial of Bishop Walter Righter, who had publicly ordained a practicing homosexual in 1990. I also became involved in 1996 with the new confessing movement within the Episcopal Church, the American Anglican Council. Through the AAC, I worked with Canon Bill Atwood in his development of the Ekklesia Society, a network of Anglican provinces and dioceses that are working together to defend and promote the Gospel.

The first essay, “The Handwriting on the Wall,” for which the book is named, is a revised version of a paper I gave at the “Anglican Life and Witness” Conference in Dallas in September 1997.

The second essay is a follow-up piece written in light of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s stated desire to set up an international study commission on sexuality. Drawing on our futile experience of “continuing the dialogue” in the Episcopal Church, I argue that an international dialogue would fail to find truth or bring peace.

The Kuala Lumpur Statements on “Sexuality” and “Anglican Reconstruction” reflect the concerns of the vast majority of Anglicans from the Third World (or “the South”). They are simply and forcefully stated. The Dallas Statement is the definitive report of the “Anglican Life and Witness” conference and represents the joint thinking of Third World and Western Anglican bishops and consultants who were present.

My thanks goes to Canon Bill Atwood for his invitation to address the Dallas Conference and to Bishop James Stanton for his hospitality at that time. I would also like to thank colleagues on the faculty of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry who critiqued my essays. Finally, I am grateful to Todd Wetzel and Latimer Press for their willingness to address this critical and troubling issue.

Stephen F. Noll
January 1998

Have a comment? Please send it via email.

Follow-ups from Stephen

There are no follow-ups to this post at this time.